Grenada: The spice isle goes for gold

Patricia Cleveland-Peck reveals how Grenada brings the tropics to Chelsea Flower Show

I thought I was going to a plant nursery but instead I find myself in a rough, wild setting surrounded by massive clumps of tropical blooms, many much taller than myself. The scent of nutmeg is in the air, hummingbirds are hovering among dramatic stands of huge torch gingers, their scarlet flowers as big as a baby's head.

There are dozens of vivid lobster-claw heliconias and banana plants with pink and purple flowers all growing in this jungle-like setting amid an eerie scattering of old ruins. It is about as far from your local garden centre as you can imagine. Yet the Balthazar Estate, in the middle of the Caribbean island of Grenada, is where most of the flowers are grown for Grenada's exhibit at an event which takes place far across the sea: the Chelsea Flower Show.

The people of Grenada are proud of the fact that they have won 10 Gold Medals at Chelsea, where their exhibits effectively act as a showcase for the island's tourist industry. The climate, rainfall and volcanic soil make Grenada incredibly productive and floriferous. Along the roadside you see palms, papaya and mango trees and there are old rum distilleries and cocoa plantations. As well as Balthazar, there are a number of private gardens and spice-growing establishments open for plant-lovers to visit.

The whole Chelsea operation is masterminded by Suzanne Gaywood, a Grenadian who is resident in England and who works in conjunction with her team. "Team effort is everything," she told me. "We all pull together to make this happen."

Denis Noel, the owner of Balthazar Estate, was the first person Suzanne recruited. Sitting in his lovely old plantation house, he tells me that in the 1700s sugar cane was grown here, then in the 1800s bananas, cocoa and nutmeg (still one of the country's most important crops) took over. They were still being farmed when his grandfather bought the estate in 1945. Eventually the acreage was cut and Denis started farming flowers: 26 tropical varieties are grown, for the home and export markets.

The next team member I visit is Fletcher Frank, who grows anthuriums. The journey to his nursery takes me up roads which wind high through woodland. "The altitude and cool temperatures [a mere 29-31C] suit them, as does the 80 per cent humidity," Fletcher tells me as we gaze down to where several shade houses can be seen among the lush greenery. Each house contains 5,000 plants sporting flowers with vivid pink or red spathes or bracts, from which the spike, or flower proper, extends. Anthuriums are epiphytes, which derive their moisture and nutrients from the air, so are grown on raised beds filled only with coconut shell. As well as being very decorative they also have a long vase life, which makes them ideal for showing at Chelsea.

As any flower arranger will tell you, blooms are not the only thing you need – foliage is essential to set them off. In the Bay Gardens, set high up in the cool rainforest, huge old mahogany and white cedar trees clothed with giant philodendrons and shrubs embellished with bromeliads are to be found growing as if in a lost paradise. The owner, Albert St Bernard, who also helps to arrange the stand, will pick some unusual pieces to bring.

It is John Criswick of St Rose Nursery, however, who supplies the bulk of the foliage. He cultivates a wide range of multi-textured plants including enormous philodendrons, ferns and cordylines in many shades of green, yellow and magenta. He established this nursery 30 years ago and also plays an important role at the show itself.

"He is the one who knows all the Latin names," I am told by Cathy John, president of the Grenada Horticultural Society, when I meet her at her home. Her role is to travel all over the island seeking out spices and prize plant material which she buys or asks the grower to donate.

"We need big bold plants, long-stemmed orchids and such like. Members of the Orchid Circle are all proud to donate. In fact all over the island people ring us and invite us to see what they have," she told me. "I like to surprise Suzanne with something special.

"We begin here on the Monday before the show, when we wash and condition the plants and pack them in boxes using fleece. The boxes are labelled so we know which can 'sleep overnight' when we get there and which must be taken out immediately."

This year's exhibit is entitled "Spice Isle – Spices, Rainforest and Beach", bringing together some potent elements of Grenada's attraction. I wish them luck ... and another Gold.

Chelsea Flower Show (rhs.org.uk) runs from 20-24 May. BBC TV coverage begins Sunday on BBC1 at 5.35pm.

Travel essentials

Getting there

Virgin Atlantic (0844 209 7777; virgin-atlantic.com) and British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) fly from Gatwick.

Visiting there

Caribbean Horizons (001 473 444 1555; caribbeanhorizons.com) in St George's offers a Floral Delight Garden Tour from US$120 (£75) for two people for a half-day.

Balthazar Estate, St Andrews (001 473 442-7514), admission US$10 (£6.25) call before arrival.

St Rose Nursery & Garden, St George's (001 473 440 5870), entry US$6 (£4) or free if buying plants.

More information

grenadagrenadines.com

grenada-at-chelsea.org.uk

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister
TVSPOILER ALERT: It's all coming together as series returns to form
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine